Rangers eliminate Capitals with thrilling Game 7 OT win
NEW YORK – The New York Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the second straight season with a 2-1 win in overtime over the Washington Capitals in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
Derek Stepan scored with 8:36 left in OT, firing home the rebound of a Dan Girardi blast from the blue line and eliminating the Capitals. The Rangers will host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday in Game 1 of the conference final.
The Capitals iced the puck twice in overtime, and both times Eric Fehr -- returning from injury in this game -- was forced to take the draw. He won it the first time, but then lost it to Stepan the second time, setting in motion the play that would win the Rangers the game.
The puck was moved from Keith Yandle to Dan Girardi, who blasted a shot off of Capitals' defenseman Brooks Orpik. It rebounded to Stepan, who fired it into a gaping net, sending MSG into hysterics.
"They are a good faceoff team and all series long we've talked about faceoffs with all the forwards," said Stepan. "It's a special feeling. We have a lot of work to do here. It's certainly a lot of fun but we're only half way there."
Henrik Lundqvist (35 saves) outdueled Braden Holtby (36 saves) for another clutch win.
The game featured two teams trending in different directions for Game 7s.
Out of 11 playoffs series since 2008 for the Capitals, this was their ninth Game 7, having previously gone 3-5 in them.
Lundqvist, meanwhile, entered Wednesday night’s contest having won five straight Game 7s. In his last nine elimination games at MSG, he had won all nine with an absurd .968 save percentage.
But the Capitals struck first at 7:10 of the first period, after the teams traded power plays.
Nicklas Backstrom won the draw to Alex Ovechkin, who fed the puck to Marcus Johansson on left wing and then cut to the net. Johansson floated a perfect backhand pass to an open Ovechkin. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh slid across the slot to prevent the chance, but he was too late: Ovechkin sent the puck high, glove side and into the top corner for the 1-0 lead.
Heading into this Game 7, the team that scored first held an all-time record of 117-41 (.741).
The first period saw four penalties called – a far cry from the Capitals’ first-round Game 7 against the New York Islanders, which went penalty-less until late in the third period. It was on the Capitals second power play when Holtby had one of his best stops of the series, putting his blocker down to cover his five-hold as Rick Nash attempted to deke him for a short-handed goal.
The second period saw a parade of penalties … by Mike Green. The Capitals defenseman, a pending unrestricted free agent, was whistled for tripping Dominic Moore at 1:55 and then for cross-checking Dan Girardi into the boards at 4:34.
It was on that second power play that the Rangers cashed in.
Near the end of the man advantage, McDonagh kept the puck in the Capitals zone and it eventually found the stick of J.T. Miller. He saw Kevin Hayes streaking in on left wing and sent a cross-ice pass to him. Hayes tipped it past Holtby before the goalie could slide to his right, knotting the game 1-1 at 6:22.
From there, the teams traded chances until the game's thrilling finale, featuring some memorable physical play -- including a Brooks Orpik hit in the third that sent Dan Boyle off to the back.
Thus ended another Rangers vs. Capitals series in Game 7. It was the fourth time in five series between the teams since 2009 that went seven. The Rangers had won the last two, in the 2012 semifinals and the 2013 quarterfinals.
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